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White Stetson Hat
By Larriane Wills
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Rated "G" by the Author.
A collection of stories told by my grandmother and great uncle of life in Cushing, Oklahoma during the black gold boom of the early 1900's
White Stetson Hat
Daddy said it was black gold and in 1915 Oklahoma was the place to be. Mama didn't want ago. I know as they whispered lots but Daddy had to have work. We left grandpa's farm in Arkansas and sold all our things. I cried when the man that brought them loaded my rocking chair on his wagon, begging Mama to keep it. Couldn't, she told me, there wasn't room to take it along.
Daddy was sure Cushing was going to be better for us, but we never seen so many people. It was what they called a boomtown. He couldn't find a house to live in and if he could, he couldn't find a job to make money to pay for it. We had to live in tents down by the railroad tracks with other folks in tents that Mama called white trash.
We're the Boyds. I'm Mary. Richard is my brother. Mama says he was the prettiest baby ever. I don't know ‘bout that because he's older than me. He’s just skinny with hair sticking up all over and with black freckles across his nose, but he's smart. My little sister is Florence. She's prissy. Mama is Bertie and Daddy is a Bunyon. None of us like it much in Cushing ‘cepting maybe Richard.
Things fascinate him. Like the Abercrombie’s’ oldest girl, her name is Florence too, and they live in the tent next to us. He doesn't much care for girls, but she’s the only person he ever knew that has a big toe missing from being froze and has her very own cannonball. She always calls us “them brats” probably ‘cause Richard takes that cannonball so many times. It not like he’s stealing it. It just fascinates him so he wants to hold it, thinking of the places it might have come from like Gettysburg or one of them other battles he told me of. He always gives it back ‘course. That girl always knows who takes it and comes to Mama when it goes missing.
Richard likes to talk of wars and such. They kinda scared me, but not so much as them men that hung around down in Old town, the bad section of Cushing. There was one Richard got to talking ‘bout most and watching for when we was down there that wore a white Stetson Hat. Mama said he was a no good that didn't do no more than gamble, sneak in liquor-liquor--wasn't allowed in Cushing—steal, and probably murder. There was lots of murders in Cushing.
We went down to the river to play one day and there were lots of folks there that wouldn't let us go on down. One of them Indian women was down there dead. Someone had near taken the top off her head, they said, to steal the money she got from her government check that day.
Richard wanted to go see. Not me and sister Florence. We did see her though, that Indian woman, after the undertaker had fixed her up for burying, and they had her all laid out for viewing so’s folks could pay their respects. Could hardly tell where her skin had been with ripped loose from her head. They never did catch who done it, but Mama said it was probably one of them no goods that hang around Old Town like the gambler in the white Stetson hat.
After that Richard stopped talking about him in front of Mama and Daddy, but he didn't figure it was the gambler. He told me the gambler didn't need to steal no money. He had all he needed. He could tell by the fancy clothes he wore. He talked about him being like pirates on the Spanish Main or rebels who smuggled in goods to not pay unfair taxes to the English and ‘bout men who dumped tea out of a ship into the water when he talked about sneaking liquor into a dry county, and the gambler doing that like he was noble.
I don't know much ‘bout them things, but I do know that gambler was the fancy dresser. He wore him a silky vest under his suit coat, a gun in a shiny holster with pretty designs on it and that pure white hat.
Richard said he wanted him a hat just like that one. Wanted to be a gambler too and carry a gun. He always dreamed like that.
In town the big wagons hauling crude oil to the refinery pounded the streets to dust up to my knees. When it rained it was mud that deep. I had bad dreams ‘bout them wagons and their six huge horses pulling them where I fell down in the dust and couldn't get out no matter how hard I tried and those huge old hoofs came pounding down at me. That's what I thought of when I saw them. Richard talked about wagon trains crossing the prairie and fighting off injuns with a gun just like the gambler's.
Things just didn't bother Richard like they did me. I hated having to carry our lunch to school in one bucket ‘cause I just knew everyone knew we only had one bucket. I didn't want them knowing all we had was biscuits and sorghum to put in there either. I figured they'd all know Daddy couldn't find work and we were so poor we had to live in a tent down by the tracks with the white trash.
In geography one time our teacher told us Cushing was the richest spot in the world because of its oil. Guess it was so ‘cause it was filled with people who talked of getting rich, but Daddy couldn't even make the good living he came looking for. That's why and we had to live in that tent, not ‘cause we were no goods or white trash.
Richard didn't mind the tent either. Least ways he didn't to start. He used to set in front on the bench Daddy made telling stories to me and sister Florence. The dirt road in front was a game trail and the stack of railroad ties between it and tracks were rocks where injuns hid. That was before he took the sneaking off to Old Town to watch the gambler and white Stetson hat.
I didn't like the story he told us that one night, and I know Mama didn't. She started whispering to Daddy and looking at Richard with the worried kinda look on her face.
Richard told us he was sitting on our bench while Mama, me, and Florence was in town, and Daddy was at the refinery asking for work again. That gambler came running from town looking back over his shoulder so’s Richard knew someone was following him. Richard saw him duck behind a stack of railroad ties, taking his gun out. Figuring there was going to be a shooting, Richard said he made his mind up right then and there if the gambler lost, he was the get him that white hat.
It was the Marshall following. Even with the gambler hid, that Marshall killed him dead first shot, and Richard ran over to get him that hat. He saw the gambler's head with the top gone with his brains and blood spilling out and got sick, throwing up all over. Lost his cookies, he said. The Marshall, calm as could be, Richard said, come over to him while reloading his gun. “Boy,” he told Richard, “you better get out of here before them hoodlums kill you.”
Richard got right on home.
I thought it was kinda funny Richard talking ‘ bout the gambler getting killed that way, like he didn't care when he wanted so bad to be like him, but I didn't say so. Mama was already in a state. Maybe she had reason to be worried. Richard was awful quiet after he told us about it, and he didn't eat much dinner. Breakfast either. And he laid down on his cot 'stead of going out to play like usual. It started Momma whispering to Daddy again.
I know it was wrong to try to hear but I did. Momma said something about the farm, and Daddy shook his head, saying it would get better. We heard that Abercrombie girl yell and Mama and Daddy turned real quick like to look for Richard, then Daddy started to laugh. Mama said it wasn't right, but Daddy just shook his head, laughing more. Richard had gone and took that cannonball again and that time he buried it.
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